Maui Food and Dining

Tuk Tuk Thai: Worth the Wait

June 7, 2014, 4:26 PM HST
* Updated June 9, 10:21 AM
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Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.

By Vanessa Wolf

If the school bus doesn't tip you off, hopefully the sign will. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

If the school bus itself doesn’t tip you off, hopefully the sign will. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

What do Thai food, three-wheeled auto rickshaws, and a psychedelic school bus straight out of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test have in common?

If you said “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” or “The Grateful Dead,” you’re probably right.

However, in this particular case, the answer we were looking for is “Tuk Tuk Thai.”

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Located in the parking lot of the Haiku Cannery Marketplace, Tuk Tuk delivers remarkably consistent, high quality dishes from their slightly questionable-looking Helter Skelter-esque digs.

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The general ambiance is somewhere in the zone of “hippie caravan camped at Buddhist temple” (which arguably fits right in in Haiku), but otherwise this is some serious business.

The Pad Thai with Tofu. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Pad Thai with Tofu. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

If you’ve ever – or ever considered – going out to Hana solely for some pad thai from their venerable roadside chefs, Tuk Tuk offers a viable local option.

How do we know this?

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A little bird… plus we tried the Pad Thai with Tofu ($9).

Superlative in every capacity a humble noodle plate can achieve, the dish is jam-packed with crisp fresh carrots, broccoli and a topping of raw cabbage.

We thought it “had to” have bean sprouts to be authentic – it didn’t – but hey, the chopped fried egg and crushed peanuts were present and accounted for.

Otherwise, the requisite salty/sweet/sour tamarind and fish sauce flavors were balanced and even augmented by the other ingredients.

The Papaya Salad or Som Tum. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Papaya Salad or Som Tum. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Did somebody ruin your appetite with the mention of tofu? Tuk Tuk may very well change your mind about the modest protein. (And, if not, choose from chicken, shrimp or beef, as well.)

The menu is basic and offers only about nine options. A few favorites weren’t represented, but most of the classics are.

Depending upon the day and the crowds, there are usually two – or even three – curries available: red (hot), green (medium) and yellow (mild).

We threw caution to the wind and ordered up the Red Curry with Chicken ($12).

Fear of fire (at least in your mouth)?

Stick with the yellow.

The Red Curry with Chicken. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Red Curry with Chicken. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The curry itself is quite thin, but easily  absorbed by the two large snowball-sized scoops of rice.

The flavors are intense yet bright – dominated by kaffir lime and ginger notes – and balance well with the carrots, yellow bell peppers, bamboo shoots, cabbage, zucchini, sweet potato, green beans and chicken.

In addition to the fresh, crisp vegetables, each bite delivers a nice, hot kick and lingering afterburn.

If the scorch proves too much, order up a Thai Iced Tea ($2).

Cold, creamy and about as cheap as it comes: what’s not to love?

The Green Papaya Salad ($8) or Som Tum is another good way to cool down.

Thai Iced Tea. Worth a stop just for this. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Thai Iced Tea. Worth a stop just for this. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Fresh shredded papaya is tossed with carrots, tossed in a traditional chile and fish sauce-based dressing and then topped with chopped peanuts. It might sound like an off-putting concoction to the uninitiated, but trust us when we say logic has no place here: order it.

Depending upon when you go, one of the inarguable criticisms of Tuk Tuk can be the wait for food.

Although the staff is friendly, efficient, and (in at least one case. You’ll know her when you meet her) Care Bear adorable, two people manning the bus just aren’t quite enough to keep up with demand.

Food came out as quickly as ten minutes after ordering to as long as an hour later. On those occasions – a line back to the parking lot is a definite warning sign – pull up a seat by Buddha and work on your mindfulness.

The curry comes with ample rice. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The curry comes with ample rice. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Speaking of whom, despite our earlier teasing, Tuk Tuk’s seating area is actually a pleasant place to pass some time, especially for what is technically an old school bus sitting in a parking lot.

It’s rather well-shaded, surrounded by potted plants and decorated better than most immobile food trucks we’ve seen, which is good news considering you might (be forced to) stay awhile.

Last up, we tried the Chicken Satay ($10).

Seven pieces of thin cut breast meat chicken grace a plate accompanied by rice and a romaine-based salad. The accompanying “dressing” seemed to be chili paste and peanuts. Different.

The Chicken Satay. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Chicken Satay. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The chicken itself was accompanied by a chunky peanut dipping sauce with strong chile, ginger, and lemongrass flavors.

Even without the sauce, the poultry is still tender and rich with the flavors of coriander, cumin and ginger. Also note there’s a fair amount of turmeric in the mix.

It imparts the rich yellow color, which is not necessarily limited to your lunch and can stain your clothes, skin and fingernails if you get into a feeding frenzy or a similarly sloppy endeavor. Caveat emptor.

In conclusion, anyone who’s been in Ono Grindz by the electric substation across the street lately has noticed the sign that Wayne’s Sushi was no more (at least in that location) as of last weekend/May 31.

Coincidentally, while waiting – and waiting – for our food one afternoon, a guy in line called out to the man taking orders from inside the Tuk Tuk window.

The bus itself. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The bus itself. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Customer: “So when are you moving across the street?”

*** crickets ***

Customer: “I heard you were moving across the street, to where Wayne’s used to be?”

After a lengthy silence, a tense voice from inside the psychedelic bus responded, “No one is supposed to know about that.”

Customer: “Oh well, I’ve heard it from about five or six… maybe seven people, so…”

That aside, shhhhh.

It’s only a rumor, so let’s keep it just between us, OK?

——-

For now – and perhaps for the long run – Tuk Tuk Thai is located at 810 Haiku Rd #404 in Haiku.

They are closed on Mondays and open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

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